Listeners could hear the game’s excitement

By Tom Mattingly

Many of the old stadiums across the country have been torn down. Only film, later videotape, and the power of memory are keeping them alive.

Life as we know it has taken a number of interesting turns.

Closer to home and of equal or greater concern, Larry Munson and John Ward no longer broadcast the Georgia and Tennessee games.

They were two legends who described the excitement of college football from the 1960s onward.

“While Cawood Ledford was my closest friend in the business,” said Ward, “Larry Munson was right there, too. His strength was that he could visualize the game for the listener. He was a very good broadcaster, with his own technique.”

In markedly different ways, their listeners could feel the game’s excitement in each voice, distinct yet different.

John Ward could make the standard broadcast disclaimer (“This broadcast is authorized under broadcast rights granted by the University of Tennessee through the Vol Network, solely for the entertainment of our listening audience…”) into an art form. Don’t remember ever hearing Munson utter those famous words. Someone did, but probably not Larry.

Munson’s rambling monologues, laced with liberal use of the word “we,” seemed to go on forever, never finding a period. They were classic.

Ward had a keen sense of anticipation as the play unfolded, with few wasted words.

Both men painted the word picture in markedly different ways, and their fans loved them. Ward disdained the use of the word “we,” as applied to Tennessee, but the excitement was still there. John rarely stood up in the booth, but when he did, something special had to have been happening, take for example the 80-yard TD pass from Peyton Manning to Joey Kent in the 1995 Alabama game.

For his part, Munson never did decipher the difference between Vol running backs Don McLeary and Curt Watson in the 1969 game at Athens, telling of “Tennessee going toward the book store, just handing the ball off to that big running back.”

Tennessee ran the ball well that season, and Watson and McLeary each gained more than 100 yards rushing that day. The numbers on the orange jerseys were soaked with North Georgia mud. They weren’t easy to see anyway, home or away, rain or shine.

Georgia trailed Florida in the 1980 version of the event formerly known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Things looked bleak when the Bulldogs lined up in the shadow of the Gator Bowl’s north end zone, trailing 21-20. It was third-and-11.

The south end zone looked miles away but was actually a mere 92 yards. Getting in field goal range seemed a tall order. Florida players and fans were in victory mode. Happiness was heading toward Gainesville at a feverish pace.

For its part, Georgia wanted no part of losing. In one magic moment, King Arthur pulled the sword from the stone. The Lone Ranger and Tonto arrived just in time to save the little town from the Cavendish gang. Barney Fife found Andy and Helen in the cave.

That famous, often grating, voice was in full flower.

“It will take a miracle now… Do the Dogs have it?… Florida in a stand-up five… They may or may not blitz… Buck back… In trouble… Gonna throw on the run… Complete to the 25… to the 30… Lindsay Scott… 35… 40… 45, 50… 45,40… RUN LINDSAY… 25, 20…15, 10, 5… LINDSAY SCOTT!… LINDSAY SCOTT!… LINDSAY SCOTT!”

It was a magic moment, unless you were rooting for the Gators.

For Ward’s signature moment, you flash back to the night of Jan. 4, 1999, when Tennessee and Florida State were battling for the first BCS National Championship.

“Peerless Price is the wide receiver returning to the Vol huddle with the clock showing 9:45 to go in this game… This is John Ward and Bill Anderson sending you the action from the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona… Tennessee will come to the line with Travis Stephens as the running back. There are two flankers to the left, one to the right… Florida State in a 5-man front. They’re going to blitz this time. Martin back, steps up, struggles, going to throw the ball long, long down the field to Peerless Price… Caught at the 45… He’s at the 40, 35, 30, 25, 20. Just give it to him… No flags on the field. Touchdown, Tennessee!”

John’s calls of moments like this one have resonated over the years, being savored as a part of life wherever Vol fans gather.

So, here’s a tip of the old fedora to Larry Munson and John Ward, who made football exciting for fans over the years, each with different styles, but united by their ability to bring home the action on the field in a memorable way.